Saturday, October 20, 2007

Mulberry Street

Director: Jim Mickle
Writers: Nick Damici and Jim Mickle
Starring: Nick Damici, Antone Pagan, Sarah Dickinson
MPAA Rating: NR
Running time: 85 min
Country of Origin: USA
read my spoiler disclaimer

Zombie movies are definitely my thing. When I found out there would be three very different zombie genre films playing at this year's Toronto After Dark Festival, I was ecstatic. The opening night screening was one such film and is likely one of the better in the genre that I have seen in a while.

     The film takes place in a "slummier" neighborhood in New York City. We see as the film opens that construction and plans for the future of the neighborhood are slowly replacing the more traditional housing complexes and commercial establishments of the area. Along with construction and its obvious changes, also come rats. Rats are forced to evacuate and move as their habitats are destroyed or dug up. They soon start to move in to apartment complexes and local business establishments. We can tell that there's something odd about these rats; something more aggressive with a strange behavior. As a few people in the area are inevitably bitten by these rats, the people themselves begin to change. It begins as a sort of grumpy, withdrawing behavior and slowly progresses into an aggressive, "attack everything that moves" attitude. As the film progresses, we see that the people are actually physically turning into giant rats and attacking people and eating them!

      As the people started to become rats, the first thing that crossed my mind was the recently released on DVD movie, Black Sheep (MP review). While it was completely campy and didn't work at all in that film as the people slowly regressed into looking like giant sheep that walk on two legs, with Mulberry Street it works surprisingly well as we just see glimpses of the rat people - through doorway peepholes or dark alleys. Instead of being campy or cheesy, it's actually terrifying.

      The movie is also strangely paced. At first, I was a little put off by this tactic. The first 20-25 minutes are dreadfully slow and not a whole lot takes place. The director lingers on characters and set pieces longer than it seemed necessary. Until almost on a dime, the action begins with a crazy bar room, infection breakout. This is where the film really took off. However, after pondering this technique, I decided I like the fact that we're introduced to the main characters in a very human way. We interact with them as they go about their daily lives. So although it might seem a bit mundane at first, it's actually a great way to introduce us to the characters and help us relate to them much better.

      The style is also refreshingly different from most pictures and gives a very ominous tone to the feel of the neighborhood. As the movie opens, all seems normal and we have the usual color scheme that pictures we see everyday normally have. As the infection throughout NYC begins to grip the city with fear and mayhem, the director emplys a green filter over everything that makes everything that much more surreal and that much more creepy. It's sort of like watching the film through a night vision scope, although not quite to that extreme.

      Also with this style, come the use of certain set pieces that make the movie feel like it takes place in the 1980s; even though it clearly does not. Much like Wes Anderson's use of 70s style color schemes and prop pieces, director and writers Jim Mickle and Nick Damici have given this movie the feel of the neighborhood of their childhood in which they grew up; using older cars and trucks as well as older household items like dial radios and a traditional feel to the general environment. Even the characters were people they knew from their neighborhood. It all made perfect sense in this weird and surrealistic world.

      Although the actors will be relatively unknown to the general movie going audience, they all obviously gave their all in this project and the effort shows. The characters are believable and realistic. At times funny (an "Odd Couple" set of characters particularly lighten the mood) and at times very dramatic, all of these actors seem to be right at home in front of the camera and could easily branch out into other projects in the very near future.

      If there is one complaint I have, it was the use of chaos cam. About half way through the film, I had decided that the director was doing a good job in not succumbing to this latest trend and only using sparingly and at just the right places. As the film went on though, it was used more and more and a couple of quick scenes were damn near unwatchable. Again, it was very minor and not used all that much, but it was there and it was noticeable and distracting.

      All in all though, this title was a worthy entry into the After Dark Festival line-up and certainly suitable for the opening night screening. It's got everything a horror fest should have: zombies, rat people, action, intensity and some of the best flesh eating I've seen in ages. Basically, Mulberry Street was an absolute ball.

Quicktime Trailers:
Lo (3.5MB)
Hi (15.5MB)

Links: - full cast and crew
Official Site
Posted by Andrew James in

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